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Alberto Guerra González
Alberto Guerra González

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Setting goals in the middle of a pandemic

In a previous post, I looked back at my 2020 goals and what I managed to achieve by the end of the year.

I have been going through that exercise for a few years now. Nonetheless, 2020 taught me a lesson when it comes to goal setting in a volatile context and I wanted to share that with you.

Setting goals

Before I get to my recommendations for goal setting in the middle of a pandemic, first I will describe my approach to setting goals in general.

1 - Areas of improvement

I always start the process defining areas that I want to improve on during the year. These could be your finances, health, relationships, work, etc.

Choose area

You can choose as many as you want with the caveat that, the more areas you choose the less focused you will be. This means you will make some progress in every area but you won't be able to make big changes.

If this is the first time you are setting goals, I would suggest you start small. Pick one or two areas where you can make a big impact.

2 - GROW

Once you have picked your areas of focus, the next step would be to define your goals and how you will achieve them.

For this, I usually follow the GROW model. This framework has been used in coaching for many years and has proven to be fairly successful.


Goal 🏁

Start by defining what it is that you want to achieve.

Coming up with "good" goals can be challenging. In the next section, I will share more details on how to do so.

Reality 🌍

Before you can elaborate a path to achieve your goal, you need to understand where you are now towards that goal. This will help you assess how much time you will actually need to meet the goal.

It might be useful to find a buddy that can give you their objective point of view in the matter. For career development, your manager or someone more senior would be an ideal candidate for this. For personal growth, a friend or a partner can also help.

Options ⚖️

Now that you know where you want to get and your starting point, it is the time to brainstorm ideas on how you can get there.

Most of the time, there are multiple paths you can take. This is your opportunity to evaluate their pros/cons so that you can make an informed decision.

Way forward 🛣️

Finally, it is the time for you to narrow down the options and choose the best one.

Depending on the scope of your goal or the amount of time you have to complete it, you might need to more than one action item from the list you came up with in the previous step.

     As an example, imagine your goal (G) is to lose weight by the end of the year. In particular, 10 kg. You current weight is 100 kg (R).

     There a few ways you can tackle this goal (O): exercise, changing your diet, going on caloric deficit, etc.

     Since you enjoy playing tennis, you decide to join a club and play 3 times a week (W).

If you want to learn more about coaching or the GROW model, I recommend you read Coaching for Performance.

SMART goals

A nuance I introduce as part of the GROW model is the use of the SMART criteria when it comes to defining goals.


Specific 🎯

Your goal should be specific. Otherwise, it will be hard to know whether you achieved it or not. In the previous example, we set 10 kg as a weight loss goal which is easy to track.

Measurable 📏

With a measurable goal you can keep track of your progress which will help you stay focused and motivated.

Achievable 👌

The goal should be realistic and attainable.

Les Brown once said:

"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars".

This is a great quote and I personally follow it when it comes to goals for things that I am passionate about. If you put yourself outside of your comfort zone, you will be able to achieve greater things.

With that said, some of your goals may be about things that you are not so passionate about. In that case, I recommend you play it safe and aim for something that is relatively easy to achieve. Then, if you make it, you can raise the bar and continue on your growth journey.

Relevant 🧐

The goal should be important to you and there should be a reason behind the goal. This will also help you stay motivated and will increase your chances of success.

     Following the previous example, you may want to lose weight to be healthier and live longer.

If you don't feel connected to your goal, you will rely only on will power to achieve it. That could be ok for short term goals or if you have a strong will power.

For long term goals, chances are that things will get in the way: a bad night of sleep, stress at work, etc. When that happens, being connected to your goal will help you persist on the efforts and eventually achieve it.

Time bound ⏰

It is important that you set a deadline for your goal. This will not only help you stay motivated but ensure you take the time to evaluate whether you have succeeded or not.

You should choose a deadline wisely.

  • Give yourself enough time to achieve it.
  • Feel free to stretch yourself if you are willing to take on the challenge.
  • The goal must still be relevant once you achieve it.

     In the previous example, we picked one year for the weight loss goal. We could have picked 20 years for that goal if we were not sure we could make it.

     Yet, if you are already experiencing health issues or if your doctor has given you a recommendation, reaching the goal in 20 years time might be too late.

3 - Goal setting in the middle of a pandemic

You might be thinking ...

How can I come up with goals when everything around me is a mess?


2020 was a crazy year and 2021 won't be any different for the time being. I admit that this volatile environment we live in is not ideal for self development.

With that said, if you still have enough mental energy to do so, here are a couple of recommendations that will help you succeed.

Circle of influence

The Circle of Influence contains the things that concern you that you can do something about.

Circle of influence

In the context of goal setting, the idea is to choose goals that you are certain you can have an impact on in this current climate.

     As an example, I had a few goals in 2020 that involved traveling as a way to invest in my relationships with friends and family. Unfortunately, because of the travel restrictions, I failed in all of them.

     For 2021, knowing that my circle of control has reduced because of COVID-related restrictions, I will look for alternative ways to achieve the same goal: video calls, texting, etc.


This is an idea borrowed from the concept of sprint retrospectives in agile development.

By having regular checkpoints on your way to the goal, you will have the opportunity to reassess whether the actions you chose during the GROW exercise are still applicable in the new reality.

If you find that you no longer can continue with those actions or they are not as effective as you initially thought, you will still have time to pivot and choose a new way forward. With that said, changing too often might be counterproductive and delay you over the long run.

Choose wisely

It is important that you evaluate the tradeoffs before you pivot on a new direction to reach the goal. You might be making progress even though you can't observe it just yet.

     Going back to the example, many people who start exercising for weight loss purposes take longer to see results because their bodies go through a rebalancing process. They lose fat at the same time that they gain muscle and their net mass remains the same.

     At this stage, changing the strategy completely may turn in a complete waste of effort. It may be more productive to pivot the way to measure progress to a metric that discerns between the two, such as body fat percentage.

Discussion (2)

saracunn profile image
Sara Cunningham

Setting goals is so important for career growth and personal development! I have heard of SMART goals but never GROW. I really enjoyed learning about it and will think about it when making my goals!

albertowar profile image
Alberto Guerra González Author

Glad to hear you liked it!

Good luck in your growth journey :)